Thursday, October 06, 2005

Railroad ride to the past

Hi Folks,

I'm writing this email to journal our trip to
Antonito, Colorado where we boarded the Cumbres &
Toltec scenic railroad for a 64 mile ride
through the mountains ....pulled by an authentic steam
locomotive on narrow gage track.

We were fortunate that our timing of the aspen fall
colors was almost perfect. The views were
spectactular and the landscape can only be
described as "pristine". As we steamed out of
Antonito we could see the steam locomotive (number
487) as it rounded curves up through the desert
plateau towards the mountain pass. The engine worked
hard with black smoke billowing from its stack as we
rose at a 1.4% grade at a speed of about 18 m.p.h.
The train includes an open freight car that
you can access for a panoramic view of the scenery.
You can walk from car to car from your assigned seat
to the open freight car for an un-obscured
photo session. I took about 150 photos and I'll send
some choice images in another email. The Friends of
the Railroad has done an excellent job
of preserving the authenticity of this 120 year old
working rail line. They have restored the section
houses, phone booths (there were no radios back then),
tressels, and tunnels.

One un-expected bonus on the trip was our purchase of
a $12 book entitled "Ticket to Toltec" by Doris B.
Osterwald. As we passed along cuts in the
mountain I noticed a broad range of geological
features. Then I started reading the book and realized
that I was getting a geological tour of a quality
equal to a government-published geologic atlas. I
mentioned to Terri that the Ms.
Osterwald wrote like a geologist. Then I discovered
in her bio that she *was* a geologist! The
formations ranged from Quaternary to pre-Cambrian
which made for a wide variety of geologic history.
The publication is really neat in the fact that you
get a milepost-by-milepost guide to the history of
the rail line as well as a geological tour along with
spectacular mountain vistas. Every mile of the 64
mile trek is marked with a milepost so you
don't even need your GPS (of course I had one but only
turned it on once to see how fast we were travelling).

One of my highlights was a full lunch served at the
Osier section house. Osier was approximately our
half-way point where the engine also took on 1500
gallons of water (in less than 5 minutes).
Our lunch was a full hot Thanksgiving turkey dinner!
The crew did a good job of feeding 400 passengers in a
short time from a section house so remotely
located in the mountains that it provided it's own
electric power via diesel generator!

I also took my iRiver digital mp3 recorder to record
the train whistle and track sounds. If anyone is
interested I'll send you an mp3 file of the sounds. I
got some great digital audio recordings.

This rail journey is *not* a tourist trap but rather a
piece of American history that deserves preservation
as much as the Grand Canyon.

If you can be so lucky (as we were) to time your rail
trip in the 1st week of October you will be treated to
an incredibily brilliant yellow aspen theme.
I was impressed with the volunteer guides and their
enthusiasm for preserving the rail line.

One piece of trivia that blew me away was the fact
that the 64 mile line was completed in 1880 in 9
months using a 2000 person crew. The line paid for
itself in less than 3 months of operation which proves
that the 2000 workers were probably

For the geologically inclined who would like to read
more ....or for train buffs that would like to read
more I refer you to the ISBN number for "Ticket to
Toltec" which is: 0-931788-27-7.

Next time you are up in Taos or Santa Fe you should
make the trip up to Antonito, CO for this all-day
train journey into the American and geological past.

Feel free to pass this recommendation to train buffs
or geology fans.

Here's my 17 minute audio adventure aboard the Cumbres and Toltec:



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